DPRP's Menno von Brucken Fock speaks with
about his new project "Guilt Machine"
on 5th September 2009
Arjen LucassenÖ who hasnít heard about him? The former guitarist of Bodine and Vengeance is very well known as AYREON and for many fans also because of one or more of his side projects (Ambeon, Star One and Stream Of Passion). The Arjen Lucassen of today is a changed man: through time he has developed himself into a multi-instrumentalist, composer and producer; heís now living in another house and he has a new relationship. Arjen keeps in close contact with his solid and still growing fan base and he still handles all his mails and messages personally. After his last Ayreon album, he refers to as ď01Ē, he intentionally wanted to do a laid back solo album. How and why this didnít happen but instead a stunning album of his newly created side project ďGuilt MachineĒ will be explained by the man himself, who invited me to come to his home in Oudenbosch, in the southwest of the NetherlandsÖ
MENNO: Arjen, at the beginning of 2007 you quit Stream of Passion, you got divorced and you found yourself without a manager: ultimate chaos?
ARJEN: I guess thatís a fair statement. To begin with, I never intended to be part of Stream Of Passion. The first album was to be a solo album for Marcela Bovio and after that I would continue to work on my next Ayreon album. Along the way she was thrilled by the idea of forming a band. Still I stated I didnít want to be a member but in the end she persuaded me, not only because I knew how to set up a tour etcetera, but also because then they would be able to play Ayreon songs. One album is not enough for a whole show, so thatís why I eventually joined.
During that same period, after thirteen years of marriage I got divorced and I had to look for another house and worse: another studio because the Electric Castle was no more. So after my divorce I was living alone, a situation Iím extremely uncomfortable with, and I felt lost and began to party like I used to when I was twenty. I discovered that in your late forties, your resistance isnít quite as solid anymore (laughing). Once I was in Amsterdam, going out with Heather Findlay and Mostly Autumn and I probably picked up some virus there which attacked my nerves responsible for taste and smell: I have been suffering from anosmia (loss of smell, but in fact taste too) ever since. Especially during that time I began to imagine I had all kinds of other diseases too. Thatís when I really got depressed and even had suicidal tendencies, because nothing made sense anymore. The idea of having to work on a new album made me sick! Usually I donít take any medicines at all, but then I was forced to take anti-depressive drugs. They did help but the disadvantage was they take away feelings of euphoria and even more important: creativity. Out of balance, I couldnít come up with the right songs and at last I tried to compensate by inviting as many well known guests as I possibly could and make the story as huge as I possibly could. Thatís how ď01Ē was realized. The only satisfaction in the end was that the story finally got an ending and because of the fact ď01Ē was a sort of a summary of the previous albums, I didnít mind there were a lot of moments of Ďrecognitioní in it. The only thing that really bothered me were the vocals. Iíve always considered it a huge compliment when people said to me, ďHey Arjen, that singer mr. So & So sounds much better on Ayreon than with his own bandĒ. This time I was really struggling: there were too many big names and consequently I even began to put vocals in, where I originally had planned an instrumental piece or a solo, just to have all those great vocalist sing a bit more than a few lines! It was crazy and in the end I felt this was the first album I didnít succeed in pushing the vocalists to a better performance than with their own band. Yvette, my manager at the time, wanted to focus on her writing. Since Iím not a live act, there not a whole lot to keep a manager busy all year, only around new releases. It was very kind of her to postpone breaking this news to me until after I had finished 01.
MENNO: What happened after you finished ď01Ē?
ARJEN: Well, I didnít want a manager who was interested in cool cash alone, I didnít want a manager who would keep telling me what to do and what I shouldnít do and I most certainly wasnít looking for a manager who already was managing several other acts. What I needed was someone who would be maintaining the website, looking after the newsletters and would be a stimulating force. Yvette suggested to give Lori (Linstruth, ex-Stream Of Passion guitarist) a call because she thought Lori would be fit for the job I was offering. Fact was Lori and I got along really well during the tour with Stream Of Passion, we are fond of the same kind of music and I knew she was good with computers. Being a teacher in the English language was very important too. So I gave her a call and to my surprise she was interested and we kept in touch frequently. I turned out she was utterly depressed as well and that the relationship with her boyfriend had ended and she wasnít happy with her life at all. So now there were two of us feeling lonely and depressed and thatís when I was bold enough to ask her to be my manager and come to live with me in Holland. Things clicked really good between us and before we realized we were actually sharing our lives together!
MENNO: Marcela told me you were kind enough to listen to some of the songs and to give your expert opinion? She also told me through you they contacted Joost van den Broek to be their producer (at least partly)?
ARJEN: I insisted on a very low profile regarding SoP, because I really thought they had to do it themselves. I did comment on some of the samples they sent to me. Joost and I are very close friends and I know what kind of talents he has. It might well be I recommended him to be their producer. Actually I recommend him to almost anyone who is asking me to produce their album, because I will not be anyone elseís producer. Besides, he and Marcelaís sister Diana went out together for quite a while so I guess you might say they knew quite a lot about him, but the original contact came through me. Lori and I went to their CD-release show and we were very proud of what Marcela and the guys had achieved!
MENNO: Did Guilt Machine bring Lori and you closer together or was Guilt Machine the result of you both feeling happy again?
ARJEN: Definitely the latter. When Lori came to live with me, none of us knew what would happen, but we both felt we had absolutely nothing to lose. Our relationship however flourished beyond expectations and thatís when the inspiration to write a new album came back. Originally I intended to record a more or less laid back solo album, doing all the vocals myself. But when Lori stepped in and said ďoh, this part is so cool, letís put some heavy guitars inĒ, that idea was abandoned right away. At first I was a little reserved but when I tried it out I had to agree: yeah this sounds awesome! At the end of the day she is the reason Guilt Machine became the album that has been released recently. The moment I stepped away from the Ďsolo-album concept and I had a clear vision of what this album would have to sound like, I must say it is the very first side project that came out as I intended. Ambeon was supposed to become a Tangerine Dream like album, entirely instrumentally, Star One was supposed to be a record with solely Bruce Dickinson as vocalist and Stream of Passion was meant to be a solo album for Marcela BovioÖ..
MENNO: So the original plan to make this a solo record was abandoned and you decided to start looking for a singer. You must have had some idea about the kind of singerÖmale or female, well known or ĎunknowníÖ?
ARJEN: Well I worked with female singers two times already, firstly Ambeon and a few years ago with Marcela (Stream Of Passion) so it was definitely not to be a female singer. Furthermore I didnít want a well known name, mainly because the people would have certain expectations straight away and for this kind of new style of music I didnít want that. We did consider Russell Allen but we were afraid that people might expect something completely different, more heavy like Star One, than the somewhat Floydian influences I had in mind. So we wanted a singer not known to the progressive or metal audiences, preferably from another genre of music because then, you have a chance that mingling two styles create a new one. Another of my demands was the singerís pronunciation had to be really good. We were thinking of an Englishman or American but in any case a singer who could sing English perfectly. We also were looking for a guy with some charisma: although we didnít plan to play live, there would be clips and face to face interviews and a singer can have charisma just because of the way he sings you know. Lastly we wanted a clear voice and we didnít want a very distinctive voice either, because you have to listen to that voice for a whole album, you will run the risk of ending up to either love it or hate it.
MENNO: How did you find Jasper Steverlinck and did you actually have a kind of vocal in mind sounding a bit like Muse?
ARJEN: Exactly, that kind of voice! I would have loved a singer like Bellamy but then we would have had a big name again and besides, I donít think I would have been able to get in touch with him. So we started listening to alternative bands for about three months: via Torrent you can download some 250 songs from all kinds of indie & alternative artists (like for instance Arctic Monkees, Placebo) but still we couldnít find a good candidate. At the end we came up with two names: Remy Zero (of whom Iím a big fan) and a singer from a Belgian band Arid. A Belgian fan mailed me to check him out. First we listened to a cd and we went to see a live performance and we were totally blown away by Jasper Steverlinckís voice and presentation; he was the perfect singer. Unfortunately at first Jasper wasnít interested at all, so we opened negotiations with former Remy Zero singer Cinjun Tate, but he turned out to have a very complex personality. After a few months Jasper obviously had a few moments to spare and finally listened to some of my music and contacted me he was willing to do the Floydian track ďThe Memory RemainsĒ that ended up on Timeline, because he is a Floyd fan too! All of a sudden we were in a hurry now. I didnít have the lyrics for the songs for Guilt Machine yet, so in despair I turned to Lori who started writing the kind of lyrics I never could have written and Jasper could relate to those very much. Our first cooperation turned out to be a great experience for the both of us and after he acknowledged I was not the kind of producer that would force him to sing differently then he would like to, he agreed to work with us on Guilt Machine. All lyrics were written by Lori who had been reading about depressions and the kind of emotions and feelings that play a big role in becoming depressed and it turned out to be that ďguiltĒ was an extremely important emotion: thatís how it got started lyrically and the name of the band is a synthesis between ďguiltĒ and ďmachineĒ, an analogy for the human brain.
MENNO: Did you use the same kind of method for your compositions: starting with the guitar and arrange everything else in a later stage?
ARJEN: Thatís correct. There was one big difference though: this time I used a lot of clean guitars which I canít recall ever having done that before. Clean guitars and chords instead of just riffs. The original idea of all the messages through telephone was inspired by Pink Floyd but the way we decided to make it work turned out to be a huge success. Messages from all over the world and in their own language (but they had to say it in English too). A lot of them ended up on the bonus cd because they didnít all fit on the actual album.
MENNO: The music score for these message is awesome by the way!!
ARJEN: Thank you! It comes from the Ambeon album. Iím crazy about artists like Tangerine Dream, Schulze or Redshift. I really love sequencers, and believe it or not, there will come a day I will make such an album!
MENNO: About artworks and colours: do you fancy the colour green particularly, because not only the artwork of Guilt Machine features greenish
colours, but also on 01, Human Equation and more or less Timeline too?
ARJEN: (Arjen looks stupefied and laughs). No, I really donít think I have a special interest in green, because my
favourite colours were and still are red, white and black! For one, Jef Bertels cannot be Ďmanagedí at all. I did get him to paint the elements in Timeline, as well as references to the other covers, but thatís about it. He chooses his own
colours. It might be that subconsciously he influenced me to look for that same kind of
colour composition now in Guilt Machine. I got a mail from a French artist who happened to be a fan. He sent me the email directly after he noticed that Lori had made him her
favourite on the Flickr website. This guy, Christophe Dessaigne, was so utterly enthusiastic, it has been a joy working with him. The interpretation of the artwork, as many of the lyrical content, is for anyone individually. Some may see a person destined to fall, others a man in higher spiritsÖ
MENNO: You mentioned on the DVD that all the sounds of machines, phones, voices, effects and instruments are real and not coming from computers. I think you own a Hammond organ but I didnít know you owned a mellotron?
ARJEN: I donít actually, but I have a perfect explanation for this. Of course I have a genuine Hammond organ and I canít deny I would love to have my own mellotron. However, the original mellotron is nothing more than a sampler: each key represents a recording of a string orchestra on a tape that runs for exactly 8 seconds. My mellotron samples are from a real mellotron, that when played, give exactly that same 8 seconds of a digital recording from that same sounds of the genuine mellotron, so there is no difference in sound. Unlike the synthesizers: I only use the analogue ones, in spite of their limitations, because they do sounds much different and in my opinion much better and personal than the digital ones.
MENNO: You listen to music a lot yourself and you are extremely busy handling all your mails and use the internet. What about that Ďmouse-syndromeí? Do your eyes and ears ever get a rest?
ARJEN: (Laughs out loud). Yes I do listen to music a lot, but at a very low volume. When I jog, each day for about an hour, I mostly listen to old stuff like Deep Purple. At night, between 11 and 12 PM, I listen to new things, mostly singer/songwriter songs, lying on my back on a mattress with my head between my speakers, but as said: very softly. Unlike when you play live a lot, you have this massive sound all around you which probably is deafening if you donít take proper precautions. My ears are just fine. The only difference between the earlier days is, I hardly get a chance to listen to an album more than 2-3 times at most, with the exception of a few very special albums. All songs of the oldies I knew by heart and I knew all the lyrics too. I wouldnít be able to come up with one single album from the last ten years from which I could say the same. For reading Iím beginning to need spectacles, unfortunately. Regarding the computer: at the moment I have some trouble with my right hand again so nowadays Iím standing up behind my PC using my left hand, that helps! In contrast to earlier in my career I no longer listen to sound samples or CDís/CD-Rís sent to me by other artists. I just donít have enough time to do that anymore. Of course I listen to music from friends, projects I had been involved in and suggestions from fans to check out a certain singer. With 1 or 2 minutes on Ďmy spaceí you usually have enough information to go on.
MENNO: Should there be any plans for a new Ayreon album, you were reluctant to work with a great number of singers again, mostly due the huge costs to let them come to your studio. Donít you think the internet, using a webcam, could be helpful?
ARJEN: Oh no (shakes his head vigorously). I want to have a vocalist where I can see him or her and be able to create that vibe needed for an optimal result. Compare with a movie director: he wouldnít allow an actor to perform his parts at home as well. I feel like a director in the presence of a vocalist and I need them to stand right by my side. Only two times I was satisfied with the results of singers who sent me files recorded in their own studio: Devin Townsend and Russell Allen, most of the others were not as good as I expected. So definitely no: either they come to my studio or I donít hire them at all. With the dropping sales of albums, because of all the downloading, it will become increasingly difficult to hire singers from abroad though, because itís really a huge investment.
MENNO: Most artists I interview state that playing live and selling merchandise is the main source of income today, why is that so much different from your situation?
ARJEN: I have been very fortunate in the past with the sales of all my albums from Holland to the far corners of the earth; altogether around 1 million albums sold is my estimate. Since I lead a fairly modest life I have been able to save enough for at least the next ten years. However, if the sales of all my new projects would be disastrous, I might be forced to return to play live again, because itís true that this the major source of income. The merchandise we sell through the internet is fraction from what we would sell during a tour! Big issue here is: Iím alone, I donít have a band so every time I would want to do a tour I would have to hire every single one of the people I would need to make it work. This means at least 5 vocalists and about four musicians. All these people would have to sleep in hotels, would have to be fed, and weíd have to rehearse as a band etcetera. For example with Star One; financially it was a break even because weíve sold an extraordinary amount of merchandise, beyond expectations. After the first show in Zoetermeer everything was sold out! If working with the original cast is not possible a theatre production would be an option, The Human Equation as a sort of a musical in various theatres. I was approached about such an idea by the management of AHOY (Rotterdam) recently but this world is completely unknown to me and that scares me a lot! Besides, a production like that would take two years of preparations and it would cost about two million euroís so we would need sponsors to make it work. Another point is Iíve never had a hit! Jesus Christ Superstar, Tommy, War Of The World: they all had hits. My sales are quite impressive because people buy my cdís from Zambia to Singapore and from Germany to the US, but thereís not one single country where I would have the status of a rock star. For the time being I can safely say my fans are the loyal ones such as you, who rather buy cdís instead of downloading everything; I donít think the old fashioned music shops will last for more than five years. Kids from today are used to download everything they want to hear or see and wonít buy CDs and DVDs anymoreÖ. Every single day it strikes me how easy it is to download stuff for free. Isnít there someone who will be able to get a grip on whatís happening on the internet, checking IP addresses for example? Did you know by the way, the special edition of Guilt Machine already sold out before it was even released? Itís truly amazing and the other day I expressed my sincere thanks to all the fans who ordered this album: Iím a fortunate guy!
MENNO: If you would choose to wait a few years more before you come up with another Ayreon album, wouldnít you be afraid the fans would conclude itís probably not going to happen anymore and forget about you?
ARJEN: No not really. In the case of Pink Floyd for instance, there was a hiatus from seven years. Now I donít want to compare Ayreon with Pink Floyd, but I think in my case people would be even more eagerly anticipating what would come, instead of focus on other artists, so that doesnít worry me at all. Itís true the pressure would increase as time goes by, but when I feel good, the inspiration comes and then I just love the challenge!
MENNO: Iíd like to have your primary response to several names or events ...
MENNO: Pink Floyd at Live 8:
ARJEN: Tears, tears. I was weeping in my chair: the music, the sound, these oldies embracing each other after so many years of tension and separation. Even talking about it now gives me goosebumps!!
MENNO: Beatles CDís remastered on 09-09-09:
ARJEN: If they donít come with bonus tracks or something extra special Iím not too impressed. I really loved the anthologies. Especially the second one is probably my most favourite Beatles CD, because of all those beautiful plain and raw versions of tracks like Strawberry Fields. Even more I cherish the anthology on DVD: in my opinion the best documentary ever recorded. For me the original LPís from the Beatles already sounded great so I donít really think a remaster would add any additional value.
MENNO: Richard Wrightís passing away:
ARJEN: Horrible, a disaster. Not only because he was a very kind man, but also because he was one of my favourite keyboardists. I think he is very important within Floyd and maybe because of his technical limitations he came up with great sounds and melodies. Itís the same kind of warmth Wright had as Michael Palin whom I have a weak spot for too.
MENNO: Steve Wilsonís Insurgentes:
ARJEN: (frowns) No, not that good, I didnít like it very much. Every track the same foundation of 4 chords, over and over again. As a genuine Porcupine Tree fan I think Iím allowed to say that. I got the feeling these tracks were the leftovers from the previous PT albums. I didnít understand the fuss around this release while I rate Fear Of A Blank Planet as absolute top of the bill!
MENNO: Financial problems for SPV, the owner of Inside Out Records:
ARJEN: A very unpleasant surprise indeed and it had me worried for quite a while. Fortunately Inside Out is part of another record company now so everything has been settled satisfactorily. Iím afraid the problems with SPV are only the beginning of what will happen in the near future. In my judgment the small companies (like Mascot for instance) will survive because they operate with just a few motivated hard working people and donít have the burden of all the overhead expenses.
MENNO: On An Island by David Gilmour:
ARJEN: Although Iím very fond of the title track, still the album was a bit of a disappointment. Too sluggish for my taste. The same feeling I felt with the live show: a bit indolent and only in the second part when they played ďEchoesĒ I got the right spirit.
MENNO: «a Ira by Roger Waters:
ARJEN: No idea. I didnít hear it at all, mainly because itís an opera and that is definitely not my cup of tea!
MENNO: After Forever splitting up:
ARJEN: Yeah itís a pity, but I saw it coming. There were rumbles for some time, then Sander got in trouble with his burn out, later he went on to do his HDK project (on which I played!) where he seemed to enjoy himself immensely. Itís a shame because they were a truly talented and great band. One can only hope all these gifted musicians will continue to be active in music and will create even more beautiful thingsÖ And maybe, if they wouldnít succeed with their own projects, they will get back together again. Theyíre not enemies, you know, it was purely out of different musical interests.
MENNO: Your personal favourite album from 2008:
ARJEN: (looks puzzled and starts to search through his cdís) Damn, I can only come up with 2007 albums like Porcupineís Fear of a Blank Planet and Phideauxí Doomsday Afternoon... Maybe 2008 just wasnít such a good year. Err...didnít 01011001 come out in 2008?
MENNO: Arjen, youíve always put a lot of time talking to the press, talking to fans and answering all their mails personally. Looking back, do you think it was time well spent or are you afraid you will eventually become a puppet on a string, a slave behind your PC one day?
ARJEN: On the contrary! I am so glad I chose to do it this way. Because I hardly play live I donít hear what people think, how they feel. Through the mailbox I maintain in contact with everyone who wants, so I think this a real privilege and Iím convinced the fans all appreciate it too. I takes me about 3 hours each day, in the morning1 Ĺ hours and in the evening about 1 Ĺ hours. Not playing live, means I can refrain from all the organizing, travelling time, rehearsals etcetera. Furthermore, the fact I donít have a family gives me the opportunity to spend so much time on my fans. The other day an interviewer for a radio station asked if I was doing this from a commercial point of view and the answer is no! I do think however, my way of communicating has helped to create a huge and loyal fan base. I must admit things begin to get a little complicated at present because now you donít have solely your mailbox but also Last FM, Twitter, Facebook, My Space and so on. Itís getting harder to keep up! But how rewarding such contacts can be. An example: recently I got a request from a mother from Brazil whoís daughter is a huge fan. She would celebrate her birthday shortly and she was hoping I could do something special for her. So I sent her a card with stickers and buttons and immediately got a reply from that girl she was the happiest person on earth! I think itís quite cool Iím able to do that!
MENNO: You started out to work with Transmission Records but you decided to part ways at some point. On what grounds do you decide to work with a particular record company?
ARJEN: Well, Inside Out was very obvious: it has been and still is the biggest label in prog. All great names are with Inside Out! When I was working on Star One they approached me and of course I couldnít resist their offer. After some very dreadful experiences Iíve decided I didnít want to work with a major label ever again: they throw money around but suddenly stop doing what they were supposed to do, they donít return calls, they donít keep their appointments and so on. Guilt Machine is a different project and I thought it would make sense to work with another company. Iíve made contact with four companies who were all interested: Inside Out, Mascot, K-scope and Roadrunner. Although Inside Out and the two other companies made me an offer, Mascotís Ed van Zijl replied to my mail on a Sunday with a phone call within two hours. The contract was on my desk within a week! I didnít even bother to talk to the others anymore because this was what I wanted: enthusiastic people who respond immediately. Easy to contact, good distribution network and also very important: nice people to work with. Since youíre in close contact with such a company for about three whole months, youíd like these three months to be memorable because they were pleasant and satisfactory, not because they were an agony. After all itís three months of your all-too-short life.
MENNO: You call yourself a Ďcontrol freakí in the interview of the DVD but is that really true for Guilt Machine because you have allowed Lori to write all the lyrics, to let her influence you with her guitar parts, you have allowed Maitland to do what he wanted and also Jasper was allowed to sing as he wanted to.
ARJEN: All that is partly true, but it still was the deliberate choice of the control freak! Iím still in control because itís my decision if I feel something is okay or not. With singers I always do it that way, except for maybe the first two albums. Starting with Fish I realized this was not a good approach: the results are much better if you let singers free to do what they feel best. Ed Warby gets the basic tracks from my drum computer but he plays how he think it would sound best. Other vocalist have written lyrics before Lori, for example Fish and Devin Townsend, but not a whole album. With Chris Maitland it went pretty much the same as with Ed.
MENNO: You have stated you will probably work on a second Guilt Machine album rather than a new Ayreon album, but even more likely on a second Star One? Any ideas of contributing musicians?
ARJEN: I would love to do a follow up to "On This Perfect Day" but not just now. I honestly think Iíll need a reaction to this atmospheric album first and that could be a "Star One" album. I would most certainly involve Ed Warby, Peter Vink and Joost van den Broek. Iíd love to have Russell Allen (I already have his consent), Floor Jansen and Damian Wilson on board again but itís always uncertain if they would be available if I need them to record.
MENNO: Last question : will Arjen Anthony Lucassen ever become a father?
ARJEN: Nope (grinning), not the slightest chance! Still too much of a kid myself.
DPRP Review of Guilt Machine's - On This Perfect Day - 2009
Guilt Machine - Official Web pages
Guilt Machine - MySpace Page
Arjen Anthony Lucassen - Official Website
Ayreon - Official Website
Ambeon - Official Web pages
Star One - Official Web pages
DPRP Interview with Arjen Lucassen by Andy Read - 2008
DPRP Interview with Arjen Lucassen by Jan-Jaap de Haan - 2000